Van Beek: An officer’s calling, that internal radar that senses when something is wrong (column) |

Van Beek: An officer’s calling, that internal radar that senses when something is wrong (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices
James van Beek

As we step outside, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a place of such magnificent beauty, and one that attracts a community of people who bond over our outdoor lifestyle, protection of the environment, passion to exceed personal limitations and an ability to blend work and play like none other.

We are a top destination for travelers, with many deciding to make their visit last a lifetime. Our winter wonderland is the stuff snow globes are made of (snow is coming). … Yet, we were sadly reminded that we also live in the real world. Our year-end celebration was sadly disrupted by the actions of a gunman in Highlands Ranch.

A Front Range equivalent to “Happy Valley” is Highlands Ranch. It is considered one of the premiere communities in the nation by both Forbes and Business Week. It is known for its safety, friendly neighbors, beautiful developments, great schools and amazing recreational facilities. It’s one of the most prosperous areas of the state. People move there for its lifestyle and security. All of that changed, early New Year’s Eve morning, when a gunman killed a deputy, seriously injured another and sent five others to the hospital.

As law-enforcement officers, we are acutely aware that when we step out of our home, it may be our last, yet we answer a calling that unify all those who devote their lives to the protection of others. Fortunately, deadly incidents are rare in our area, and while we expect the best, we must be prepared for the worst.

Our deputies are highly trained but at any time, if unexpectedly ambushed, we could go down in a matter of seconds, as Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock described the scene on Sunday, Dec. 31. Our deepest sympathy goes to the family, friends and colleagues, of Deputy Zackari Parrish, who left this earth at the young age of 29. Those who had the privilege of knowing him will long remember his devotion and bravery; but perhaps even more, he will be remembered by the many he protected, who never met him. Rest in peace.

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As we continue our dedication to the well-being of our Eagle County neighbors, we want to share with you some suggestions on staying safe.

The familiar saying, “If you see something, say something” is always relevant. At a time when we fear offending someone, we tend to rationalize odd behavior as perhaps eccentric or cultural, rather than acknowledging it as potentially dangerous. While we must be respectful of differences, it is important that we use common sense in evaluating situations. Someone owning firearms in Colorado is common; if they are threatening to harm people, then that becomes a matter of concern.

If a student is occasionally angry or sad, that is normal; if they obsess on violent responses, then it could be a sign of instability which could lead to a tragic incident. They may need help before committing an irreversible violent act.

Be continually aware of your surroundings. We tend to be on heightened alert for wildlife, but ignore potentially dangerous behavior in other settings. The argument at the pub; the adult hanging around the school grounds; the social media posts that continually cross the line; the coworker whose behavior suddenly changes and becomes obsessively angry; the person lingering around the parking lot with no obvious purpose, etc.

We all have that internal radar that senses when something is wrong. Perhaps, you can be the one to recognize a need for help, prevent a suicide or even a homicide.

It’s a delicate balance between being a concerned citizen and an intrusive neighbor. Use good judgment but also know that mentioning aggressive behavior may save lives.

Some anonymous sources include Crime Stoppers (Sheriff’s Office), and Safe to Tell (Eagle County Schools), who are trained to distinguish between simply unusual behavior and that which is potentially dangerous, with the added benefit of direct contact to mental health professionals.

Establish a 9 p.m. routine for checking on home doors, windows, securing the garage and generally taking note of your surroundings. Of course, we live in neighborhoods where we feel comfortable leaving cars and homes unlocked, but this is not wise. Even if we are comfortable around our neighbors, we also reside a short distance from a major interstate and that increases our exposure to those with nefarious intent.

This is a new year and our focus is on the wonderful adventures that wait in 2018. Let’s keep it all positive by protecting ourselves, our friends and our community. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office will always be here for you.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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